The Difference Between Dumbbells and Kettlebells

Why Can't I Just Use a Dumbbell Instead of a Kettlebell?

Kettlebells USA® Kettlebells

Is a Kettlebell the Same As a Dumbbell?

Kettlebells and dumbbells are both excellent fitness and strength training tools, however, a person who is unfamiliar with kettlebell training may mistakenly assume that a dumbbell may be used for all the same exercises. There are some key differences in design that give kettlebells their unique attributes and set them apart from dumbbells. In essence a kettlebell is the 'freest of free weights and this is why:

  • Kettlebells have a wide space between the handle and the load while dumbbells have the load and the handle in the same line.
  • When you hold a dumbbell in your hand at chest level or overhead your wrist will be put into an extended position as opposed to with a kettlebell where the hand is able to insert deeply into the handle so that the load sits primarily on your forearm rather than being focused entirely in the hand and the wrist.
  • With kettlebells you can keep your hand and wrist in a neutral position allowing the stress to be distributed evenly throughout the hand and arm. This neutral alignment is not possible with a dumbbell because the load is focused in the hand and the wrist.
  • The neutral alignment of the kettlebell allows you to do a higher volume of repetitions with the kettlebell before your forearm muscles fatigue. Additionally the neutral hand position allows you to place the kettlebell more directly over your center of mass and your stance. During high repetition exercises when you have the correct body alignment the neutral position allows you to relax the muscles and let the skeleton and the structure of the body support the weight.
  • Another difference in the design between dumbbells and kettlebells is the distribution of the weight. Between a dumbbell and a kettlebell of the same weight, the shape of the kettlebell gives you the opportunity to change its leverage point depending on how you hold it. With a dumbbell, once your body adapts to a given load, your options for increasing difficulty are limited to doing more reps with the same load or grabbing a heavier dumbbell. With a kettlebell you can simply change how you hold it to make the same exercise harder using the same kettlebell. Instead of inserting your hand into the handle of the kettlebell, you can place the side or the bottom of the kettlebell on your palm to make any movement more challenging. Challenge yourself even further by holding the kettlebell base up in the ‘bottoms-up’ position.
  • The unique design of the kettlebell allows you to do a lot of exercises that you would not be able to do with a dumbbell including throwing and juggling them in different patterns. Finally the shape of the kettlebell has the load extended past the level of the handle, and therefore, it increases the range of motion your body has to work throughout a given exercise. This increased range of motion requirement translates into better mobility and flexibility for you.